Earlier this month, local police, backed by Interpol, fanned out across the Philippines, busting nearly 60 people allegedly connected to cyber “sextortion” syndicates. These groups, investigators say, tricked thousands of victims on at least four continents into participating in sexually explicit online videos and chats, only to then demand money from them to keep the material secret.
It was a crime nearly a century from being invented when the first International Criminal Police Congress gathered in Monaco in the spring of 1914, for a meeting that would ultimately result in the creation of the International Criminal Police Organization, more commonly known as Interpol (the organization traces its lineage to the conference, though Interpol itself wasn't established until 1923). At the time, European nations wanted to collaborate against anarchists and terrorists who were supposedly plotting the overthrow of the political order across the continent. Nowadays, Interpol has 190 member states and a much broader cast of shadowy transnational criminals to combat—from pharmaceutical counterfeiters to football-match fixers to a modern generation of terrorists.
The Philippines bust is just one high-profile case that Interpol has been involved in recently. From flagging stolen passports used on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight to offering help in locating the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, the organization keeps popping up in the world’s most prominent investigations. All of which raises the question: What exactly has Interpol become, 100 years since it was set in motion? And is its model of international policing succeeding against today’s international criminals?